Why Duplicitous Unions Should Be Ignored on FTA

THE INADVERTENT UPSHOT of the Inquiry into the union movement is that regardless of whether prosecutions ensue, the penchant of unions to say and do literally anything fitting their objectives at any given time has been laid bare. On one hand, free trade agreements = bad, maligned as they are as job-destroying sellouts; on the other, slimy deals to line union coffers at the cost of workers’ conditions = good. Clearly, three into two does not go.

In a refrain that has become quite normal of late — bogged down as I am — my post will be rather succinct this morning; even so, my perusal of the day’s news portals suggests that whatever else you might accuse unions of, consistency should not be a feature of it.

Predictably enough, certain unions (and even more predictably, those unions are among the most militant) have hit out at Labor “leader” Bill Shorten for compromising with the Turnbull government to lock away an agreement on the free trade pact negotiated by Trade minister Andrew Robb with China; “condemning both sides of politics” for the agreement that has been struck, the ETU and the violent, lawless CFMEU have blasted the safeguards embedded into the agreement to protect Australian jobs and to prevent Australia being flooded with cheap Chinese labour.

I am not going to bog down in the detail of those safeguards this morning, nor buy into the campaign that continues to be waged against the China free trade agreement by unions: readers can check out the article I have linked from The Australian this morning if they wish to explore those themes further, and in any case the unions’ position can be simply condensed to a statement that the government’s free trade pact with China is bad, will destroy jobs and sells the country out — without any corroborating explanation as to how this is the case, or any evidence to prove its point.

As far as I’m concerned, the flat opposition of unions to this trade pact — which will provide greatly enhanced access to Chinese markets for Australian farmers — has more to do with the fact it’s been struck by a conservative government; had such an agreement been forged, say, by the Hawke-Keating government, it is inconceivable that Bill Kelty, Simon Crean, Martin Ferguson or other prominent unionists of the day would have mounted such a mindless, baseless scare campaign against the deal, which has more to do in any case with prying votes away from the Liberal Party than it does with any genuine concern around workers’ rights and job security.

The fact Bill Shorten — himself a stooge of the unions, and sometime chief among them — is being targeted is irrelevant.

Shorten, as testimony at the Royal Commission has repeatedly shown this year, has become a liability to the union movement: whether directly or indirectly, his connection to questionable financial dealings with business to line the coffers of the AWU at the cost of legislated worker entitlements has helped draw unwanted attention to the cosy edifice based on ripping off unionised corporations to enrich and entrench union power, and it should surprise few that Shorten has received scant public defence from current-day union thugs over the “revelations” that have been aired at Dyson Heydon’s inquiry.

Even so, where principle is concerned, great elasticity has always been a hallmark of the union position when it comes to their own financial health.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph is running again today with further coverage of the so-called mushroom conspiracy that occurred on Shorten’s watch as head of the AWU, wherein payments were received by that union in return for allegedly turning a blind eye to workers at mushroom grower Chiquita being fired as employees and rehired as contractors on significantly reduced conditions, and the key point I would make is that were there no Royal Commission at all, nobody would care less about the alleged sellout of the mushroom pickers for the grotesque reason that nobody would know about it.

Significantly, there is no public outpouring of fury from any union, or from any individual currently occupying a senior leadership position within any union, over the growing litany of misdeeds being uncovered at the Heydon commission; not in relation to Chiquita, nor over the six-figure sums pocketed annually by the AWU from construction company John Holland, nor over the wholesale surrender of employee rights by the AWU at Cleanevent, or in regard to any of the other dodgy deals made by the AWU on Shorten’s watch that allegedly filled union coffers and inflated AWU membership whilst trading away the working conditions of its members — its actual members, that is.

And aside from the handful of union whistleblowers who have made the exposure of iffy union deals possible in the first place, there has been nary a syllable of protest or outrage from the unions over anything that has been revealed before Heydon at all.

Quite simply, Trades Hall does not attack its own, and provides no sanction to those who do — and whilst its own henchman are increasingly being shown to be as bad as the anti-union bogeymen they so viciously and vividly depict at every opportunity, the reality is that the very silence of the same unions currently ranging themselves against a free trade agreement that will generate countless jobs is damning.

It is interesting that even now, Labor (including Shorten) and the unions continue to evoke the spectre of the Howard government’s WorkChoices legislation; gearing up to fight a fourth consecutive election over laws that were repealed six years ago, the inherent contradiction between what the unions now say (and have always said) and what they have done in the past — and may in fact continue to do — is obvious, it seems, to everyone except themselves.

The considerable itinerary of shabby, anti-worker deals getting an airing before Heydon is, I contend, far worse than anything WorkChoices can or could be accused of — real, imagined and/or invented.

And it is through this prism that the ongoing onslaught against the China free trade agreement must be viewed.

At the bottom line, the real issue unions are campaigning against is the prospect their control over Australian workforces, and the companies that employ them, may be diluted in a more open trade environment, but that is hardly a bad thing.

After all, the end destination of unfettered union access to business is finding disclosure at the Royal Commission, and nobody can credibly suggest that the string of transactions being uncovered in any way advances the rights of the worker — which is what the unions are explicitly charged with doing, unless I am mistaken.

Far from defending Australian workers and protecting their jobs by lashing out at the trade deal with China, it is only their own petty interests that are of any concern to the unions at all, and the pattern of behaviour involving the AWU that has come to light is simply an earlier manifestation of the same motives that drive more militant arms of the union movement now.

Three into two does not go: on the one hand, thuggy unions rail against a trade liberalisation pact that carries the potential of great stimulus to Australia’s economy, generating thousands of new jobs, and sharing the proceeds of expanding national opportunities in the world around us with increasing numbers of the ordinary folk the unions purport to represent.

But on the other — when the door closes behind the leaders of those unions — the revelations before Heydon serve potent notice to anyone who cares for fair or decent outcomes exactly what the unions’ true motivations are.

And as far as I am concerned, all of this merely underlines the reasons “modern” unions are thoroughly irrelevant in, and destructive to, contemporary Australia and to the betterment of those who work for an employer to make a living.

There is, or was, a fine tradition of Australian unionism based on authentic notions of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, and those who fought for that tradition and were bound by the principle that underpinned it have much to be proud of.

Yet the same cannot be said of the belligerent marauding pack that now masquerades as the champion of the worker, and given the clear self-interest that is evident in the nightmare scenarios it continues to evoke over a trade pact with China, the best thing fair-minded folk can do is to ignore the unions altogether.


Free Trade Agreements: Government Doing Its Job

HISTORIC AGREEMENTS on Free Trade (or, at least, freer trade) — finalised by Prime Minister Tony Abbott on his tour of Asia — herald enormous benefits for Australia, and should be lauded; even so, the fact a government attracts attention at all for simply doing its job casts an ugly pall over its predecessor. It should give the opposition pause for thought before it continues to behave as a band or carping wreckers consumed by petty self-interest.

I have to say that I’m very impressed with what Tony Abbott and his entourage are doing in Asia at the moment, and it’s perhaps instructive of this government’s ambivalence toward feeding the 24-hour media cycle — in contrast to its predecessor — that whilst news of the free trade deals struck with Japan and South Korea have permeated local news, the balance of the trade mission’s activities, largely, has not.

I will however take the opportunity to poke a finger in the eye of the Queensland ALP; its useless leader — the forgettable Annastacia Palaszczuk — sought to play gutter politics last week over the fact Premier Campbell Newman was travelling with the Prime Minister’s group: the agreements the Abbott delegation have secured to date will add tens of billions of dollars to Australia’s economy in coming years through increased exports, job creation and investment, which includes Queensland, and like the petty tyrant in the ALP mould that she is, Palaszczuk held a press conference to lament Newman’s purported jet-setting (and apparently took issue with the fact he flew business class).

It’s the kind of incident that neatly illustrates why Labor is not fit to govern in this country, and it shows why Palaszczuk’s present stint keeping the leader’s chair warm will end as soon as Queensland Labor can get someone with a bit of nous back into the Parliament after its annihilation two years ago.

That said, pursuing and securing arrangements for freer and more favourable trading conditions with international partners for Australian industries is exactly the kind of thing governments ought to be doing; the government certainly deserves to be congratulated on the deals it has clinched to date, but it would be remiss not to point out that to do so simply forms part of the job it should be doing anyway.

I was at a meeting late last year that included Trade minister Andrew Robb, who is leading the charge in Asia as we speak, and I promise readers that the rhetoric everyone has heard about Australia being “open for business” is by no means idle banter. The deals with Japan and South Korea are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what Robb has in the works.

That rhetoric is being backed by an enormous amount of the right kind of activity taking place where international relations and trade are concerned, and these two deals precede a lot, lot more to come.

It leads me to talk about the government from an overall perspective, and whilst my remarks aren’t going to extend to too much depth, my point in mentioning these agreements is to highlight the substance the Abbott government is adding to the skeletal philosophical directions it outlined prior to the September election, and how that stacks up against the government it replaced.

The deals with Japan and South Korea open markets in both of those countries to a raft of Australian industries, most notably to beef and dairy producers, and service industries; in addition (and this is a thumbnail sketch only), a range of tariffs and other prohibitive protection mechanisms of local industries in both countries are being either abolished of slashed.

In return, Australia is providing greater access to Australian markets for Japanese and South Korean industries through a suite of similar measures, with those most commented to date being new cars and consumer electronics — in both cases slashing retail prices for Australian consumers. And, as I said at the outset, the effect will be highly stimulatory to Australia’s economy, and add billions to local industry in the process.

Any new government  takes time, after it is first elected, to begin to add brush strokes to a picture of the kind of government it will be; the direction in which it seeks to take the country, what kind of society is seeks to shape and influence, and whether it leaves the country better or worse off.

I think the present trade mission to Asia (and the deals struck by Abbott and Robb) lock another element of that image into place.

We can see that this government is more serious about the realities of free trade (rather than paying mere lip service to it) than any government previously; it is also refreshingly unsympathetic to handing billions of dollars to poorly run companies in the form of grants, handouts, bailout packages or any other euphemism for pork barrelling you care to name.

It is serious about reducing the tax burden on both business and the consumer; the abolition of the carbon tax and the mining tax are a welcome start (if they clear the Senate), and I think the day will come — if the Liberals’ electoral longevity is sufficient to outlast the repair job mandated of it on the disgusting state of the budget it inherited — when further substantial tax relief will become possible.

(I would also like to see the “tax switch” — increasing taxes on consumption and expenditure, i.e. the GST, and cutting taxes on income — although that might not happen in my lifetime 🙂  ).

It is certainly serious about bringing the federal budget under control, and slashing the profligate and wasteful spending that underpins the ballooning deficit bequeathed to it by Labor: anyone who doubts this will quickly be set straight on budget night next month.

But it is also a government that appears to be emphasising personal responsibility, and self-sufficiency where it is feasible to do so; the end of the “culture of dependency” that Treasurer Joe Hockey speaks of is about to be backed by real action, and provided the very poorest and most helpless are not disadvantaged, nobody can argue with that.

In short, this is a government determined to put Australia on its own two feet, and to charge forward with confidence; it is in this context I make my remarks about its overall complexion, and whilst it is simply doing the job it was elected to do, the contrast with what went before it is a stark one indeed.

The last government was led by a cretinous dickhead whose approach to the kind of delegations Abbott and Robb are undertaking was to lecture his hosts; led, that is, until his replacement with a divisive and conceited stooge who would do the bidding of the union movement because he himself refused to do so.

It was a government predicated on igniting and fanning the flames of class warfare that long ago died; attacking the “rich” whilst nonetheless worsening the lot of the poor.

It was a government beholden to lunatic socialists and communists, whose idea of nirvana was taxing and regulating industry and business out of existence: which, in its best endeavours, it set about doing with gusto.

It was a government whose concern for the welfare of this country was so scant and cavalier that without urgent remedial action, some $670 billion in debt will be racked up in the next four years without the new government spending a single additional cent; to compound this criminal dereliction of duty, the continuing ALP has the nerve to deny all liability, or even that the problem exists at all.

And it was a government that sought routinely to buy off huge constituencies with money that didn’t exist: the NDIS is a good example of this; the so-called “Gonski reforms” are another. In full flight, these programs alone will cost $22 billion per annum. They should be abolished, and abolished now; no-one thinks they aren’t ideas with some merit. But they are totally unaffordable, and it is better to chop the funding off before it even starts to flow than to allow those chosen to benefit from it to get addicted to this additional debt incurred to China, at which point it will become impossible to stop.

The trade agreements secured in the past few days by Abbott and Robb are just what a government — in the proper execution of its duties — ought to be doing.

Yet as I said at the outset, the kind of government Abbott defeated makes these achievements — comparatively speaking — seem remarkable, exceptional, extraordinary.

Clearly I could have gone into much greater detail, using many more examples of the former government and the current one, to make the point in contrasts than I have; I don’t think it’s really necessary, as readers will see my point.

Simply stated, and incompetent government whose entire program was based on a self-obsessed feathering of nests has been replaced with a competent regime whose long-term program will be to the enduring benefit of Australia, and will serve to strengthen this great country — not enslave it to a handout mentality in a thousand different guises.

The kind of successes Abbott and his ministers are achieving could have been Labor’s, too, had it governed in the national interest rather than its own, and that of its masters in the union movement.

That hard, cold reality is one that should be contemplated every time the opposition seeks to slap down Abbott, veto and obstruct legislation, or send rent-a-crowds of hooligans onto the streets to masquerade as the demonstration of “the will of the people:” an expression for which the ALP has seldom cared beyond the propagation of such gestures, and certainly does not care for today.

But it won’t, of course. Much better to have fun, throwing lies and insults and perpetuating falsified realities, and trying to fool voters who aren’t as stupid as the ALP believes they are.

In the meantime, if the trade mission to Asia is just the beginning, then Abbott and Co should be encouraged. Even Palaszczuk might get to go along next time if she can come up with something constructive to contribute.